Fort Worth legend David Coffee will be performing in his 89th show at Casa Mañana as the “Swindler” in our Children’s Theatre production of The Emperor’s New Clothes, February 1-17. David was just 11 years old in his first production at Casa: The Wind in the Willows in 1968. After more than 40 years of entertaining on the Casa stage, we thought it would be fun to have David tell us about his favorite shows, complete with back stories!
10. Cyrano de Bergerac, 1971
Back in the old days, Casa had what they called the Classic Series, which actually pre-dated what became Fort Worth Shakespeare in the Park. We did Cyrano de Bergerac and the reason I remember it is that I played four characters and we would take it on tour. We were up in Denison, and they were very proud of their stage. They had waxed it, and I slipped on the stage and broke my finger in the first performance. We had two performances that day. I did the two shows with a broken finger; I put ice on it in between. I came home and the doctor put a splint on it and after the splint came off, my finger was crooked, so I still have my crooked finger.
9. Fiddler on the Roof, “Tevye,” 2002
I played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof at Bass Hall when we had the Broadway at the Bass series. It was my fifth time playing that role. I did a concert version in high school in the 1970s; in 1982 I did a production in grad school; I came back to TCU in 1992 as a guest artist and did the show; I did the show in 2000 at North Shore Music Theatre and again with Casa at Bass Hall in 2002. I played that role in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s – four different decades! That was a special show for me. Oh, and then I played the “Rabbi” in a production at Casa in 2015, so I’ve actually done Fiddler on the Roof in five different decades.
8. Brigadoon, “Mr. Lundie,” 1993
It was one of the most beautiful productions I was involved with. We had three dancers that did the original Agnes de Mille choreography which made all the difference in the world in that production. I had a voice teacher, who was an old Hungarian opera man. He came to see the show and said, “The music was exquisite and the dancing was incredible. The characterizations were perfectly on point. The play was so good, I didn’t miss the scenery.” That was back when we were theatre in round, so I think that was the ultimate praise.
7. Singin’ in the Rain, “Roscoe Dexter,” 1992
We did it here at Casa and then took it up to North Shore Music Theatre. The reason that is special for me was that was the first season I went up to North Shore Music Theatre and started doing shows up there. Now I’ve done over 50 performances at that theatre.
One thing I remember from that production was Kirby Ward, who was playing “Don Lockwood,” wanted to see how wet he could get the audience at the end of Act I, after he performed “Singin’ in the Rain.” We had a cue for the audience so that when they heard a clap of thunder, they’d all grab for their ponchos and put them on right before that scene started. What a fun show! Now I think I’ve done that show four times. I love that show.
6. Jack and the Beanstalk, “Jack,” 1971-1972
This was part of what we then called Casa Playhouse, which were our children’s theatre shows. It was my first lead in a show. We did that here and we also did a tour that went up to Kansas. We went up on the train and came back on the train and the air conditioning went out in our train car, so we went back to the club car and stayed up all night. I’d been up for 36 hours straight. When I finally got home, I told my parents I just wanted to lie down for a little bit, and I slept for 17 hours straight. I was very upset because I missed one day of school, and up until then I had had perfect attendance.
I ended up doing the show over the course of two years. It was funny, because we had done the show the first year here and then by the second year, when we were getting ready to do the tour, my voice had changed, so we had to change keys.
5. Sweeney Todd, “Judge Turpin,” 2003
We did this during the winter season and what was different about that was the old theatre was in the round, but for the winter season we would cut the theatre in half so it was more like what it is today. I saw the original production of Sweeney Todd in New York and to this day, it is the best overall show I’ve seen.
4. Tom Sawyer, “Ben Rogers,” 1972-1973
This was a musical version of Tom Sawyer that we did for Casa Playhouse and it was when I got my first review in a show. I played “Ben Rogers.” He had a song and it was a big hit, so I was thrilled over that. Perry Stuart gave me my first review for that show.
3. The Wind in the Willows, “Portly Otter,” 1968
This was my very first show I did at the theatre when I was 11 years old. That show was special because, first of all it was my first show, and secondly, it was directed by Johnny Simons who’s at Hip Pocket Theatre and Jim Covalt, who was associate producer at Stage West for years and years. He was a college kid performing in the show at the time. It was a marvelous production. We had masks made for us by the gentleman who was a makeup artist in California who did Planet of the Apes. They were made out of foam and latex. It was a half mask, and it came over your head like a hat and then you would have makeup from your mouth down. The back of it had hair or whatever you had for that animal. We had two sets of masks. They made one set first that was very realistic, but especially Mr. Toad’s mask caused concern that it would be too scary for the kids, so we made a second set of masks that were cartooned up a bit.
2. Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, “Governor,” 1991
This was my first summer musical show that I did when I returned to Casa in 1991. I played the Governor. Perry Stewart said in his review that he had seen all the different companies do the show and that “David Coffee owns the definitive portrayal of the Governor.” I was so welcomed back by everybody it was a wonderful experience to come back to Casa to do that show.
1. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, “Pseudolus,” 1999
We did a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum that actually helped open Bass Hall. It was part of their first season. It was just an amazing experience to have the lead role in that show. I never will forget, I was backstage talking with my friend Floyd Gentry, who is no longer with us. He worked for the Symphony and he also worked props for Casa shows when we were at Bass Hall. In the show, I had a line where I’d come on with a vial, because the character needs mare sweat for a potion. I mentioned to Floyd that it was funny because I’d been seeing a lot of horse trailers Downtown and he said, “It’s Stock Show time.” So, I marched out on stage and said my line: “Would you believe it? There’s a mare sweatin’ not two streets from here.” I stepped right down to the edge of the stage and I looked out in the audience and said “Stock Show.” When I said that it was like you had dropped a bomb in the theatre, just a huge laugh, people just went crazy over it. We had a ball, and it was a very special experience to do that show.